What’s Your Favorite Descriptive Word?

As I write this, the Mid-Atlantic (and particularly my neck of the woods, in Southern New Jersey) is preparing for a foot of snow. When I went to the grocery store this morning to return my movie (“Captain Phillips,” which I highly recommend) to Redbox, I couldn’t find a place to park. I didn’t go into the grocery store, but if I had, I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to find milk, bread, toilet paper, or fresh fruit.

My daughter and I took our dog, Orly, for a walk earlier this afternoon because the dog may be home-bound for the next couple of days. It was already raining when we left the house. We walked in the woods near our neighborhood. The woods are my favorite place to walk Orly; it is quiet and peaceful there, and I love going when it’s raining or snowing because I love to hear the raindrops- and even the snowflakes- falling on the trees and the pine needles underfoot. And when it’s wet outside, that’s when the woods smell the best.

Days like this remind me of the importance of descriptive words in writing. When I’m writing, I sometimes forget that a story is more than plot. It’s also feeling. It’s also lots of other things, but I’m going to talk about feeling in this post. In the rush to get words down on paper (or on a computer screen) it’s easy to hurry past the words that help a reader feel what’s going on in the story. A reader’s reaction to a particular book is not just about the action in the story. It’s about the five senses, too. It’s important for writers to remember to involve at least one or more of the senses in a given scene…seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

What does the air feel like? Is it moist? Dry? What does the ocean look like? Is it frigid? Warm like bathwater? Is it cyan or gray, like the color of slate? Is a particular food sour and puckery? Buttery? What does the air smell like in the summer? Freshly-cut grass? Hot asphalt? And what does it sound like when snow falls in the woods? I would describe it as an almost-silent “shush.”

Ernest Hemingway was a master at using words beautifully and descriptively, even when he was describing something that wasn’t beautiful. He described a rhino as a “dangerous practical joke let loose by nature.” And this is how he began a piece for The Toronto Daily Star in 1922: “We were sitting in the cheapest of all the cheap restaurants that cheapen that very cheap and noisy street, the Rue des Petits Champs in Paris.” You probably wouldn’t read a sentence like that in a newspaper in 2014, but his description has a wonderful quality that allows the reader to imagine exactly what the Rue des Petits Champs looks like.

In my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, the story is set on one of the Thousand Islands in the Saint Lawrence River. That setting is rich with opportunities for description, and my hope is that people will read my book and want to visit that area of New York to see its beauty for themselves. My second novel, with a working title of Low Country Twilight, is set on a plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that lends itself to lavish indoor and outdoor settings. Will it inspire people to visit and learn about the history of the area? I hope so. And my third novel, as yet unwritten and untitled, will be set in Hawaii, a place with a name that conjures up lush tropical scenes and settings. I don’t really think anyone needs a novel to inspire them to want to visit Hawaii, but the very existence of Hawaii inspired me to write a novel about it.

I’d like to hear your favorite descriptive word. Mine is “capacious.” It practically makes fun of itself.

Until next week,


P.S. The school district just called a snow day for tomorrow. Maybe I should write that novel about Hawaii right now.

Orly (2)

Orly, the snow lover

10 thoughts on “What’s Your Favorite Descriptive Word?”

  1. Careen… Sometimes I feel that’s all anyone does anymore… we careen through parking lots, the internet, the day, our lives… It’s a great word that implies both the desperation and exhilaration of being out of control.


    1. Hi, Chris,

      Careen is a great word. I usually use it when referring to being in a car, but there are lots of even better ways to use it, like you suggested. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment!


  2. Hi, Amy,

    I’m a little embarrassed to say that I can’t think of a word right now–yikes. Yet thinking about it, I will keep it simple and say that I love the word, Live. For practically all my life I worry, loose sleep and stress about my loved ones and what I should do/shouldn’t have done and blah blah blah–I’ve been learning that life IS short–oh my I can write a whole page about this–so I will stop now!–Life is to short, so just be, LIVE 🙂 (sometimes it is easier said than done)

    Beatriz V.


    1. Definitely easier said than done. But it’s a great word…if I were my yoga instructor, I would tell you to write the word “live” on the inside of a seashell and keep it where you’re going to see it often. I have the word “inspire” on the inside of a seashell that I keep in the console of my car. The more often you see your word, the more often you remember that life is too short for regrets. Take it one day at a time!!


    1. I must admit that I had to look up your favorite word!! But I like it…it had a masculine ring to it. Thanks for visiting and joining the conversation!!


  3. Nice post, Amy. Personally, I like the words ‘jovial’ and ‘lilting’, because 1) they are fun to say, and 2) because they are happy, funny words. I, too, am planning on writing a book on Hawaii, because Hawaii is filled with marvelous sights, beautiful water, and gorgeous, blooming flowers. I have seen Captain Phillips, and it was very good. I recommend it.

    Looking forward to next week’s post,
    Rebecca H.


    1. Hi, Rebecca,

      I love the word “lilting.” It’s almost onomatopoeia…I think the very word describes its sound. Isn’t Hawaii awesome?! Thanks for commenting!


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